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'Self-medication must be used responsibly'

Body
WITH the flu season approaching, self medication seems the quickest and most viable option.

In times like these, parents and care-givers often rely on late-night pharmacies or whatever is in their medicine cabinet.

Research shows that the most common over-the-counter medicines given to children are analgesics (for pain) and antipyretics (for fever), especially paracetamol and other cough and cold medicine.

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Self medication and the internet can be a dangerous combination.Self medication and the internet can be a dangerous combination.

These are also the most common preparations parents usually buy from the pharmacy, in addition to vitamin and mineral supplements.

We asked Dr Deepa Maharaj, chairperson of the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa regulatory and technical committee, about the safe use of non-prescription/over-the-counter medicines when treating children.

Lately, I have heard more parents talk about how they look up symptoms on Google, then take it from there. Can you comment on the dangers of this?

The reliance on the internet for medical information is increasing because of the ease of accessibility.

The dangers of using online information to self-diagnose and treat is self-positivity, where we underestimate the risks of falling prey to an illness and self-negativity, or “cyberchondria”, where we become unnecessarily concerned about symptoms.

Research has shown that nearly half of all virtual health seekers end up more anxious than they were before they logged on because of the overwhelming amount of information.

It is easy, for example, for a search on fatigue, or even a headache, to be associated with a number of serious medical conditions or, conversely, dismissed as nothing.

It is important to understand that the medical information on the internet does not apply to everyone, and is not medical advice. Parents, care-givers and patients need to ensure they contact a healthcare provider, such as a pharmacist or a doctor.

When should you stop self-medicating if you see it is not helping to ease the symptoms? Should you self-medicate only over a certain period of time?

Most over-the-counter medicine companies and the internet focus on helping to educate consumers on the safety, quality and efficacy profiles of over-the-counter medicines through responsible advertising and this in turn helps patients to practice appropriate self-medication.

People are becoming more confident that they have a role to play in their own health care and they believe a modern healthcare system should offer increasing opportunities to access these medicines.

All over-the-counter medicines registered by the Medicine Control Council of South Africa carry clear label instructions related to the directions of use and safety profiles of these products and generally come with a limited period of use.

One example is paracetamol paediatric syrup, which comes with the warning: “Do not use continuously for more than 10 days without consulting a doctor.” Patients need to read the label carefully and use only the medicine as indicated.

If symptoms do not resolve after the period of time indicated on the label, patients need to consult their healthcare professional.

In the case of some over-the-counter medicines, such as many cold and flu products which are not permitted to be advertised directly to the consumer, pharmacists are always available to offer advice and recommendations.

Is there any danger of children becoming addicted to medicines used in self-medication?

All over-the-counter medicines carry clear instructions with regard to the age group of patients for which they are indicated.

For example, cough and cold over-the-counter medicines should not be used in children under the age of 2. Aspirin is not recommended for routine analgesic or antipyretic use in children or adolescents with acute febrile illnesses because of the risk of Reyes’ Syndrome and medical intervention is required for the use of aspirin in children, where deemed necessary.

Addiction is not generally common in younger children because of parental control in terms of administration; however in adolescents it has been reported that cough syrups containing codeine are abused, leading to addiction.

It is imperative that parents and patients practice responsible and appropriate self-medication at all times.

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